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By Dana Stabenow

Storyknife

1989 I was busily engaged in sending novels to New York agents and watching them return like little homing pigeons. That spring a story appeared in the local paper about a retreat for women writers on Whidbey Island in Washington state. It was called Hedgebrook. I thought, “What a wonderful opportunity for some lucky writer, but they’d never take me.” My best friend, Katherine Gottlieb, read the same story and called me to say, “You should apply.” It took her a week of nagging until I finally did, and in the fall of that year I flew to Seattle, took the bus up to the Mukilteo ferry, and was met on the other side by Holly Gault, the then chef/manager in residence who drove me the rest of the way.

It was an old farm with five (we watched the sixth cottage go up while I was there) beautiful new post-and-beam cottages with stained glass windows and hand-woven throws, in a quiet, iconically Pacific Northwest setting where every morning I’d look up tosee wild rabbits carousing out front or Nancy marching by with a rifle to scareoff the deer. On a clear day, the Seattle skyline was only a distant reminderof the madding world. I rode the farm bike to the library in Freeland and tothe beach to dig for clams and Holly took us up to Coupeville for mussels andbeer.

And I wrote. I worked on a novel, I wrote a short story inspired by something I saw on the beach, I even wrote a sonnet, my one and only, and left it behind in the cottage journal. It’s pretty bad.

 Dana’s  original piece from Waterfall Cottage journals shared with her permission.



I was there for two weeks. I had all day in Waterfall Cottage to work without interruption, and every evening over dinner I could talk shop and tell war stories with my fellow residents, author Kathleen Alcala, poet Amy Pence, and author Susan Brown. It was a seminal, no, it was the seminal moment of my career. It was the first time anyone had ever acted around me like writing was a real job (“Sit down,”Nancy said when I got up to help clear the dinner dishes, “you’ve already doneyour work for the day.”) and it was the first time I’d ever been in the companyof other women writers. It turned out I wasn’t the only person who thoughtadjectives were important.

I sold my first book the following year. So when I unexpectedly found myself with four acres of view property in Homer, Alaska, it wasn’t much of a stretch to imagine what to do with it. When Hedgebrook invited me back for their 25th anniversary they toldme they could have as many as 1,400 applications for 40 spaces in a singlesemester. Unquestionably there is a need. I started a nonprofit corporation andbegan a capital campaign fund which has to date raised $500,000 of the $1million it will cost to build a main house and six cabins. We have two grant applicationspending and if they come through we will begin construction in April 2019, andwe hope to be in operation in 2020.

There is a direct line from my residency at Hedgebrook to the subsequent publication of the first of my thirty-four novels, to my appearance on the New York Times bestseller list, to my winning an Edgar award, to being named Individual Artist for the Governor’s Arts Awards in 2007.

And there is a direct line from Hedgebrook to Storyknife. It is my hope that, like Hedgebrook, Storyknife will build a sustainable community where women writers will find the support and encouragement they need to succeed.

Hedgebrook led the way. We are only following them.

Storyknife

Fireweed Storyknife
Snow Storyknife
Storyknife Neighbor
Alpenglow on Ilimna

By Diana Reynolds Roome

Ode to a Hedgebrook Woodstove

Dark sturdy cradle of spark and crackle

Embossed with fishers of words

We prod, fan, blow 

For that breath of warmth

Spark of idea

Flare-up of phrase

Sap bursting with flicker, crack, hiss

Till flames engulf

Surge into life

And words scorch page.

 

Discarded phrases fuel the fire

Neglected to a glimmer

Till wood and words discreetly placed

Kindle again, set sentences sizzling

Seeking oxygen, time, new fuel –

Plank with bark or burly chunk? –

To feed a glow that sears the mind

A conflagration roaring.

 

Tongues lick through wood

Tongues singe the page

Splendor flares, flames out, and dies –

Until ferocious, hurling

One wild hot spit out into air

To start the fire next time.

 

Diana Reynolds Roome

By Judith Sornberger

Sacred Conversation

My friend Alison Townsend and I frequently evaluate how our days and weeks have gone based on whether we have “kept the appointment with the desk,” as she calls the time we spend writing. It’s not so much a measure of how much we have—or have not—accomplished that concerns us, but rather the quality of our lives that feel vastly diminished when we aren’t writing on a regular basis. It’s easy to discount the importance of our own writing in the lives of others. Yet, I don’t know how I would have survived as a writer—or, indeed, as a woman—without the essays, books, and poems written by Alison and other women writers whose work I love.

Alison and I met 28 years ago when we had residencies at Hedgebrook. Although we’d both had poems published in literary magazines and anthologies, neither of us had had a book published, so we could hardly believe our luck at landing residencies there.

I arrived at my Hedgebrook cottage just in time to walk down the hill to the farmhouse to meet the other writers for dinner. Alison, Joanne Mulcahy (the other resident), Dolores, the cook and manager, and I ate borscht followed by blueberries with cream for dessert. That night we three writers walked back to our cottages together, pausing to watch the lunar eclipse and, in the safety of darkness, speak more intimately of our lives. As soon as I returned to my cottage, I headed to my “desk” and began a poem for which Alison and Joanne were my muses.

During the long writing days, I sensed them writing away in their cottages, imagining us as religious sisters in a Medieval Abbey, each of us doing our work in our cells, each making our small contributions to communal life. Although the subjects on which we wrote and our writing styles were unique, our writing seemed a kind of collaboration, as though we were silently engaging in a sacred conversation.

In the evenings, we talked about how the day’s writing had gone and read to one another from the day’s harvest. Hearing that I’d never read Mary Oliver’s poetry, Alison lent me her copy of Oliver’s Twelve Moons. And we talked about our lives back home and the men we loved. The morning Joanne was to drive to the ferry, several days before Alison and I were leaving, we walked her to her car. Tears soft as the morning rain slid down my cheeks as I retraced my steps to my cottage. In just ten days, Alison and Joanne felt more like sisters than strangers—a bond formed by writing and the magic of the place.

A few days after returning home, I sent Alison a postcard of goats that reminded me of Ozzie and Harriet, the pygmy goats we helped feed while at Hedgebrook. In return, I received a six-page handwritten letter. I’d never had anything like it before—six pages of her thoughtful and lyrical prose just for me! Our long letters flew back and forth—often accompanied by poems or essays—for decades, sending encouragement, appreciation, and stories from our lives. We became close enough that those letters became crucial healing balm when we lost those we loved
When Alison’s father died in 1999, I wrote, “I wanted to send an image that would comfort you, knowing there is no comfort for such a loss, yet also knowing how much your morning glory card, your phone call, and the book you sent meant to me when my father died. The best image I could think of was a cottage from Hedgebrook. Those cottages seemed to me to be wombs, dens of renewal and comfort. I would wish these things for you, Alison.” Along with the card, I sent Mary Oliver’ newest poetry collection.

Eventually, our letters have turned into emails—less exciting than long letters in the mail, but far more frequent, and supplemented by phone calls during which we comment on each other’s recent poems and essays and comfort each other though calamities, great and small. Joanne and I continue to send letters and writing—less frequent, but still precious. The three of us also celebrate one another’s publications, all having published multiple books by now.

Bruce, my husband of 25, years died five years ago, and the things that kept me alive in the following months were talks with my sister and friends and writing poems. I was also sustained by the poems and essays Alison and Joanne sent, keeping hope alive in me if only the hope that the mail would bring more of their words. The poems I was writing were about Bruce and me—about our lives together, my loss and widowhood, and about reclaiming joy. Alison read each one, helping me develop and edit them, and sometimes crying with me on the phone as we discussed them. The book, those poems became, Practicing the World, will be published by CavanKerry Press in 2018.

When I arrived at Hedgebrook all those years ago, I knew that I had been given the amazing gift of time for writing in a gorgeous place and that this gift had boosted my confidence in my writing enormously. But I never expected that it would give me a sense of deep connection to the other two writers who shared that time with me, that they would become for me a community that would expand, in my heart, to all women who write, all those with whom I feel myself engaged in sacred conversation.

By Kathleen Alcalá

Kathleen Alcalá

In 1989, I was asked to interview Nancy Skinner Nordhoff about her new endeavor, a writing retreat for women. We spent part of a day talking. I think we drove from Seattle to Whidbey together, so she could show me what form her ideas were beginning to take, how her dreams were turning into something real. I had a lot of dreams too, so I was anxious to see what this looked like, given the resources.

Nancy described how her marriage had fallen apart, leaving her to reinvent herself from the good wife and good mother, roles she had filled to the best of her ability to – whatever she wanted or needed to be. She took a good hard look at what she saw for the future, and how to turn her considerable skills and assets into something practical and useful to those without such resources.

Nancy described a cross-country car trip and how she was drawn to rural spaces, found herself wanting to press her nose to the windows of farmhouses, yearning to join the circle of family she imagined inside. Her friend, a midwife, helped Nancy focus her yearning into a specific goal, a creative space where women could feel safe, didn’t need to do domestic work, and could support and encourage each other. It was a space in which their creative work could take precedence, and be their major focus, if only for a few short weeks. I could not help but wonder what was in this for Nancy. I have worked for non-profits most of my life, but understanding the motivations of people who, to me, seem to have so much more agency than the rest of us remains mysterious.

I remember feeling intense waves coming off Nancy. How I suddenly became a sounding board, and felt the need to be very careful not to say anything that would limit her exploration. I am generally tone deaf when it comes to other’s emotions. In addition, I was a bit overwhelmed with my own emotions that day. I admitted my recent failure at retaining a leadership position at a difficult organization. It had happened so recently, that I was still in shock at how badly things had gone.

Nancy suggested that I spend some time myself at the residency, a chance at some stolen time in paradise.

So I had to share another secret with Nancy. There was a limited amount of time I could spend, even at a dream residency. What had started out as a general interview for publication was turning into a series of big reveals. Nancy offered me a residency at Hedgebrook for two weeks in the fall, when the first four cottages would be ready, and I agreed. This was probably late spring or early summer at the time.

In late September, my belly swelled out to there, I moved into one of the cottages. I know other Hedgebrook residents form deep attachments to their particular cottage. I have since stayed for short visits in two or three of them, and always loved all of them the way one loves her aunties. They have collectively nurtured me with their benign, nonjudgmental spaces. The murmuring trees, the talkative owls, the path through the cedar deep, all have combined to supply that “Yes, and…” that allows a writer to fill that blank space with her own words.

What I do remember are the other three women who stayed at the same time. Dana Stabenow, upon meeting me, promptly offered to deliver my baby if I went into labor early. She had EMT training! I demurred, politely I think, holding out for full term. Amy Pence was a poet, and the fourth, Susan Brown, was working on children’s books. All have produced several or many books since then, raised families of either books or children, and effected positive change in the world not only as writers, but as teachers, parents, philanthropists, and general wise women.

I had already written my first collection of stories by the time I got to Hedgebrook, but managed to produce the first forty pages of what would become Spirits of the Ordinary, my first novel, in the two weeks I spent on that magic isle. Oh yes: On October 19 of that year, my son Benjamin was born, the first “Hedgebrook baby,” and certainly the first male to spend the night in a Hedgebrook cottage. I had an easy pregnancy and birth, and I attribute much of it to the affirmation I received at Hedgebrook. Looking back, I see how much more of the world Nancy understood than I did at that time, that giving women time and creative space might be one of the greatest ways to heal the earth, and oneself. I have tried to give back in my own way, mostly through teaching, but also by trying to be present when someone needs an ear, and answer the inevitable questions about the writing and publishing process. I will never forget what Nancy taught me, and what she offered me during my time of greatest joy out of her great need to heal.

 

 

By Corinne Cavanaugh

A Safe Space in Tuscany By Katrina Woznicki

It’s not easy to sell off the last of your stock holdings, the very last thing you bought in your own name years ago, back when you were flush and earned a healthy bimonthly paycheck. Yet that’s exactly what I did to attend Hedgebrook’s Master Class in Tuscany with Hannah Tinti. I didn’t need to return to Italy; I had just been there the previous year. But Hedgebrook is different. And the experience proved to be worth every penny.

Honestly, I can’t even begin to place a dollar value on my week there because this particular writers’ retreat was like no other. I want to call it magical, life-changing, life-affirming, all those other “feel-good” words you see on the cover of Oprah magazine because they’re all true. I’ve attended writers’ conferences before; I’ve been workshopped by rock-star authors. Hedgebrook delivered something different: community that’s committed to ensuring that every woman is heard.

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By Corinne Cavanaugh

The Bookshelves of Hedgebrook by Ayobami Adebayo

When I was packing for my Hedgebrook residency, I chose four big novels and two anthologies to see me through the month I was to spend on Whidbey Island. I haven’t left the house without a book since I was teenager and travelling to another country without taking novels with me is still unimaginable.

At the airport in Lagos, a customs officer rummaged through the carefully arranged contents of my suitcase before I could check it in.

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By Corinne Cavanaugh

Hedgebrook Authoring Change – Interview of Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

Tell us about your work as a writer—do you write in multiple genres/forms?

Sadly, yes. I’m a self-taught writer, so every time I write a book, I have to teach myself to write all over again, and it’s not a quick process. For my first novel, Why She Left Us, I read like crazy and mapped out the books I liked to figure out what a novel was. I dissected them, teaching myself everything from how to end a chapter to how to format dialogue.

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By Corinne Cavanaugh

Nostalgic for Some Radical Hospitality

What I wouldn’t give to be in the soothing, lulling calm of Hedgebrook Farms right now. I could use a little radical hospitality of the soul post November 8.

I had the good fortune to attend a Master Class last June and while I can’t say it radically changed my life I would definitely say it substantially altered the course of my work.

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By Corinne Cavanaugh

Alumna Reflection: Elissa Washuta

In 2009, nearing the completion of my MFA in creative writing, I sat in on a panel of faculty and alumni who shared their post-MFA experiences and let us in on their secrets of productivity after the quarterly deadlines disappeared. This was the first time I’d ever heard of a writing residency.

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By Corinne Cavanaugh

Alumna Reflection

I arrived to my Hedgebrook residency in February 2015 with a pile of grocery bag paper, fabric scraps, pens and glue sticks, and a few finished pages for my second book, Death Is Stupid. I was there to illustrate the story I’d written about a child facing his grandmother’s death while adults say stupid things to him, like “she’s in a better place.”

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Storyknife
Ode to a Hedgebrook Woodstove
Sacred Conversation
Kathleen Alcalá
A Safe Space in Tuscany By Katrina Woznicki